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posted by Flavivirus Original SA post

PurpleXVI posted:

That... actually sounds remarkably ideal for Kult. Huh. I may just have to look into this. Does DRYH come with any pre-made setting or fluff? Or is it just intended for all-round occult-y, horror-y stuff?

DRYH does indeed come with a setting, but it's pretty barebones. Heck, I might as well do it as a proper FATAL and Friends feature:

Don't Rest Your Head - Down and Out in the Mad City

So, DRYH is a sleek, streamlined RPG from Fred Hicks from Evil Hat Productions, the guys who made Spirit of the Century and the Dresden Files RPG. It's a book that certainly doesn't waste words; the whole thing is <100 pages, and all the rules can fit on one side of A5. To tell you what it's all about, I can't do any better than quote the game's blurb:

You can’t sleep.

It started like that for all of us, back when we were garden variety insomniacs. Maybe you had nightmares (God knows we all do now), or maybe you just had problems that wouldn’t let you sleep. Hell, maybe you were just over-caffienated. But then something clicked.

That was when you took a long walk down the streets of the Mad City, stopped being a Sleeper, and started being Awake. But that click you heard wasn’t from the secret world snapping into place. It was the sound of the Nightmares flicking off the safety and pointing a gun at your head.

They can smell you. The Paper Boys are closing in, and you’d better pray you don’t become a headline. You’re chum in the water, my friend, and it’s time you got ready for it… before the clock chimes thirteen again. Now that you’re one of us, there’s just one simple rule left that must dominate your life.

Stay Awake. Don’t Rest Your Head.

So you're one of the Awake, kept awake by stress or binges or obsession until the world shifts and you can see the Mad City that hides behind the City Slumbering (i.e. the mundane world).

The Mad City is a sprawling metropolis divided into many distinct sections, each occupied by its own menagerie of terrible nightmares; there's District 13, home of the City's crazed government, the clockwork police of Officer Tock and the push-pin headed office drones of the Tacks Man. There's the warrens under the city where the Wax King holds court and creates a safe haven for all the Awake who play by his rules. There's the Rooftops covered in windows and doors that could lead anywhere in the world and hidden among them is the shack where the Paper Boys make their newspapers, stamping tomorrow into shape in their printing press. Mundane people can sometimes wonder in, but they don't last long; the Awake can enter freely, but as Nightmares are deceitful at best and brutally dangerous at their worst it's a risky proposition.

Most of the setting information is in broad strokes. Each of the major possible antagonists gets a writeup and a stat rating (more on that later), but the way it's written up it serves more as inspiration than any sort of locking down of options. Still, it's just enough meat to hang a good story on.

The book doesn't waste time; it gives a short intro, gets the 'what is an RPG?' bit over in a few paragraphs, and gives you a list of everything you need to play. Then there's a 4-page example of play getting across the feel of play, and then straight into character gen. First, the characters have to answer a few questions:

1) What's been keeping you awake?
This gives a grounding in the character's situation, and is useful for flashbacks if the GM wants them.

2) What just happened to you?
This essentially forms the character's first scene in the game, and is their first brush with the supernatural. With this the players can set the tone they want for the game.

3) What's on the surface?
What first impression does the character give? How do they look and act?

4) What lies beneath?
What's their real deal? What secrets do they keep, and what lies do they tell themselves?

5) What's your path?
Where is the character headed? What are their goals, and where do you see their story ending?

As you can probably see these put the focus of the game directly on character development, and give the GM a bunch of levers to pull. Characters start with history, drive, hidden depths, and goals of where they want to go in play.

Then, mechanics. There's very little of this. Each character starts with 3 Discipline dice, which they will roll in every check. They choose their responses to madness, dividing 3 boxes between Fight and Flight. They pick an Exhaustion talent that allows them to do something they can do already supernaturally well, whether that's running extremely fast, scaling impossible walls, or shooting with incredible accuracy. They also pick a Madness talent, which has to be something absolutely impossible - summoning a T. rex, teleportation, turning your blood into helpful ants, that sort of thing. And they're done!

The next big thing is the dice mechanics, and it's the main meat of the game. The game uses d6 pools, and its core idea is that each roll is opposed against the GM, and the person who gets the most dice showing 1, 2 or 3 gets the favourable outcome, and ties go to PCs. At the same time, the dice pool that got the most 6s Dominates , with ties going to most 5s and then most 4s. Each pool does something special when it dominates.Each PC has three pools:

Discipline dice are always rolled, and you start with 3. This number can drop, if you're unlucky. When Discipline dominates the character regains some control, and can choose to either reduce his Exhaustion by 1 or recover one of his Fight or Flight boxes.

Exhaustion dice represent the PC's ability to push themselves to the point of collapse and do great things. You start with 0, but every roll a player may increase their Exhaustion by 1, and your Exhaustion dice are always rolled. Exhaustion talents have two uses, minor and major. To make minor use of a talent your exhaustion needs to be at least 1, but it means that when you roll your minimum no. of successes is equal to your current Exhaustion . To make major use of your talent, you have to increase your exhaustion by 1, but you then get to add your Exhaustion to the no. of successes you roll. When Exhaustion dominates, you must increase Exhaustion by 1. When your exhaustion goes over 6 you crash, falling asleep. All your fight or flight responses clear out, and your Exhaustion drops to 0, but you fall asleep for days (at least 1). When you wake up, your Discipline has dropped to 1 and you have no access to any other dice pools or Talents until you stay awake for at least as long as you slept. This wouldn't be so bad, were it not for the way that one of the Awake who falls asleep is the best delicacy a Nightmare can imagine, and they will swarm towards the PC's location in a grotesque feeding frenzy. Only the slumbering PC's friends can help them survive this ordeal.

Madness dice are the last pool. Each roll you can add up to 6 Madness dice at no cost, and if you do this you can also activate your Madness talent. These can accomplish crazy things, and the scale of what they can do increases from personal at 1-2 dice to city-block sized at 5-6. If Madness dominates, though, things get a lot more chaotic - you have to check off one of your Fight or Flight pools. If you don't have any responses left, you snap. You go mad for a time, and eventually recover with all your responses cleared, 1 less Discipline , and 1 permanent Madness dice. If you lose all your Discipline , you go completely mad and become a Nightmare.

Finally there's the GM's pool, Pain . Pain is rolled for any antagonistic force in the player's way; 1-2 for mundane forces, 2-4 for standard Nightmares, 6 for tough fights and capping out at 12 for the worst threats (Officer Tock, in District 13, with a warrant for the player's arrest, and the clock's stuck thirteen). If Pain dominates, the result is tainted with greater loss; you're injured, or the person you wanted to rescue gets horribly poisoned, or you make new enemies. The GM gets to add a Coin of Despair to his stock.

When you get less successes than the GM, you fail the action. You don't get what you wanted, and the GM can either increase your Exhaustion by 1 or check off one of your Fight or Flight responses.

The last wrinkle of the system are the coins of Despair and Hope. The GM gets Coins of Despair when Pain dominates, and can spend them to add or remove 6s from any pool in play (though if this makes pain dominate he doesn't get another coin). The coin then goes into the Hope pool.

Any PC can spend coins from the Hope pool when they have a moment to rest and recover in order to remove 1 Exhaustion , recover a fight or flight response, or add a 1 to their Discipline after a roll. They can also spend 5- Discipline to recover one point of Discipline they've lost to permanent Madness .

So, that's pretty much all of Don't Rest Your Head . 38 pages of character gen and rules, 8 pages of GM advice, 22 pages of setting information and a few pages of inspirational media. It's a really tight, focussed game that's ideal for one-shots but can definitely extend into short campaigns. There's also a book about madness called Don't Lose Your Mind that details 26 different madness talents and explains what they can do at different Madness levels, how they colour your fight and flight reactions, and what happens when you gain permanent madness. It also has some extra guidelines about handling Madness , including rules for losing it. It's a neat book, but nowhere near essential.